Working as I do for an American company, it was pretty much inevitable that sooner or later I'd be sent Stateside to meet my coworkers. This is a rough account of the trip.
Much to my disappointment I discovered that the AerDart service no longer runs. This was, in the past, the single best way for me to get to and from the airport as it requires all of ten minutes of walking for me to get to the nearest Dart station and it's a €6 ticket. Option two was Aercoach, which isn't really an option as it leaves from either Sandyford or Ballsbridge, both of which are driving distance. Option three was the regular bus service, leaving from Dun Laoghaire; walking distance, but uncomfortably so when dragging a suitcase and a fully-laden laptop case. Option four, which I really should have taken, was a taxi. And option five, which I took, was to drive there and leave the car in long-term parking. Were it a week-long trip this would actually have been cheaper than a taxi, but for a two-week trip the taxi would have been the smarter idea. I think, though, that ever since a friend of mine was stood up by a pre-booked taxi to the airport at 5am I've been wary of relying on them, and that always clouds my judgement somewhat.
I got to the airport two hours before the flight was due to leave, and stood in a non-moving queue for long enough that by the time I got my boarding pass, I already was supposed to have been at the departure gate for five minutes. The woman at the desk told me this without a trace of irony, sarcasm, or even recognition of the fact. Zipped through the security scan, filled out the INS and Customs forms, flew through INS, and then sat around for twenty minutes or half an hour before finally getting on the plane.
The first hop was from Dublin to Atlanta, all of which was on time. In Atlanta, I had to traverse security a second time, including the removal of shoes, a practice I don't understand. It's arbitrary ("if the soles of your shoes are an inch thick or more, you will have to have them screened") and as close to utterly pointless as makes no difference, and just causes further delays. I'm not even clear why I needed to go through a second security screening, but I don't think there was an alternative route from area A to area E, and I didn't have to do it travelling the opposite direction.
But I digress. I had two and a half hours to kill at Atlanta, so I texted my brother to tell him I was now an hour on the other side of him. He called me, and the conversation was somewhat impeded on my side by the fact that somewhere along the line his voice was getting attenuated, because even with the volume of the phone up full I had trouble hearing him. Unlike the guy sitting behind me at the gate; I could clearly hear both sides of the conversation he was having. Boarding for Seattle was on time. Note that thanks to the layover and "security" procedures I actually spent more time waiting around in airports than I did on the Atlanta/Seattle hop.
The flight arrived in Seattle on time, and having carry-on luggage only I was able to breeze right out of the airport. Broenwynn met me at the bottom of the steps and we headed into Seattle, which almost immediately reminded me of San Francisco due to the combination of a high-rise downtown area and the steep hills. We negotiated our way to 1st and Seneca, where I had to pick up keys to my corporate apartment. Broen had a brief disagreement with the concierge on the nature of Seattle's street grid (advice to concierge: (a) the customer is always right, even if you think the customer is wrong; (b) sure the streets are a grid. It just bends and folds and wrinkles enough to get you lost (see later)) and we navigated our way to the apartment parking. After checking out the apartment (nice) and ditching my stuff (briefly impeded by momentarily forgetting where I'd put the key to the suitcase padlock), we proceeded to a bar. There's nothing quite like dealing with jet-lag by treating it with disdain.
Oh, as I walked in the door of the apartment, the apartment phone rang. A telesurvey. I politely explained that I had just spent most of the day on a plane, and less politely indicated that no, there wasn't a good time to call back. Yeesh. Seriously, people.
Quite a bit happened on that first evening. Firstly, Broenwynn smokes, so our choice of bar was Fadó, an Irish bar with outdoor seating where customers can indulge in their nicotine fix. Seattle's anti-smoking ban curiously states that you can't smoke within 25 feet of an open door which, strictly speaking, means you can't smoke at all except maybe in the middle of the street. The reality of it, as handled by most places, appears to be that smoking in a railed-in area out front is sufficient to comply with the law, although a few places we asked weren't even willing to risk that. I'm all for smoking bans in pubs and what not, but even I think this is a bit too much.
So we're situated out front of the bar. And both Broen and I apparently have very, very powerful weirdo magnets. Our first visitor for the evening was a young black gentleman who wished to sing a song from me to Broenwynn. He inquired if we were familiar with doo-wop music, named a few names, and then sang a song or three. I can't quite recall what he sang, but I do remember that he abandoned one song on the grounds that it didn't really work or something. I joined in on at least one of the songs, which may have invalidated his pitch (musical or business), but again I'm not sure. Broen was both amused and impressed, as the guy had a fabulous voice, and we sent him on his way with a handful of dollars and a suggestion that he call out to Broen's coffee house (of which more anon) for the open mike night.
While we were being musically entertained, visitor #2 arrived. He first attempted to purchase a cigarette from Broenwynn (while she was being sung to). Now, apparently this is not unusual in Seattle, but it certainly caused me some amusement. The singer wound up whatever he was singing and was conversing with Broen, so visitor #2 came over to me instead, and said something along the lines of, "hey! you're a celebrity, aren't you? You're someone famous, right? Who are you?". Bemusedly I insisted that no, I wasn't anyone famous. Visitor #2 was having none of it, though: "you're grinning when you say no! that means you are someone famous! c'mon, man, who are you?" Eventually he wandered off, as did the singer, and Broen and I returned to our beers.
Visitor #3 arrived at our table, sat down, and said, "You guys have been sitting out here all night. What's with the accents?". Broen, due to several years of travelling and living elsewhere, has a predominantly Australian accent with turns of Irish and Scottish phrases thrown in to the mix and occasional traces of a Boston drawl. #3 introduced himself as Scott, and Broen and I attempted to persuade him I was from Kansas (I put on the worst middle America accent ever) until he eventually twigged that we were making fun of him. So we assured him we weren't making fun of him (we were, really) and after some further smalltalk he wandered off. Dude, if you come to a table you weren't invited to with a bizarre opening gambit, you better come armed with some wits.
Towards the end of the night, the last significant visitor arrived: another Scott, who was playing guitar with the band inside the bar. Since we'd been outside all night (with our accents) we hadn't heard any of the music. Scott came out to smoke, and I'm not clear on how we got chatting to him - I think maybe he saw the end of our conversation with the other Scott, and had brought his wits along and so was amused by it, but it's a bit unclear to me since at that point I was at something like the 30th hour of my day and had had a few beers.
Just before closing we wandered inside, where the band was finishing up, and Scott #2 spotted us and came over to chat some more. During the conversation it emerged that I play guitar, so Scott fetched his from the stage and insisted I try it on. I can't recall the exact age of the thing, but he'd rebuilt it or had it rebuilt so it wasn't all of an age, and the oldest parts of it were about as old as me. As part of some sort of a side conversation with Broen he wished to establish that I was, in fact, a guitarist and called a few chords which I duly fretted, causing him to remark to Broen, "yeah, he's a guitarist". Shortly afterwards I returned the instrument to him, we finished up our beers, and wandered back to the apartment where Broen crashed on the sofa.
I didn't sleep well for most of the time I was there. Partly this was probably due to the fact that most nights I was in one pub or another; partly it was due to the bed being a lot softer than I'm used to; and partly it was that despite being on the 23rd floor, there was a hell of a lot of traffic noise. And loud traffic noise, too. Not honking and sirens, just the sounds of engines which I guess were amplified or echoed by the high buildings.
In the morning we strolled across the street in search of coffee, and settled for Ancient Grounds, which appears to be an art gallery/shop as well as a coffee house. The guy behind the counter was possibly the least service-oriented person I've ever encountered; it seemed a personal affront to him that we dared to ask for coffee. When we asked for lids, he flipped them down on the counter in front of us almost disdainfully. This was to be a pattern; in addition to attracting weirdos, it appears both Broen and I attracted Bad Service. Which is odd, because both of us have a pretty good record of making friends with serving staff in general. Anyway, don't go to Ancient Grounds. The only thing worse than the service was the coffee, which was vile.
I looked up the address of the office on my laptop to make sure I knew where I was going, and Broen dropped me off on a suitable street corner indicating which way I should go. Unfortunately I didn't pay enough attention to either the address or the maps I'd looked at, so in the first instance I quickly confused myself as to the building number (for some reason I thought it was 526 instead of 605, and I also thought it was Union Street rather than Union Station) and in the second instance I'd neglected to notice that it was on 5th Avenue SOUTH rather than 5th Avenue NORTH, where I was wandering. So I circled a few blocks, asked in three places for directions, jaywalked when I'd accidentally strolled on the wrong pavement down towards an I-5 offramp, and after a few unsuccessful attempts got on the phone to a coworker who gave me directions over the phone. Unfortunately I was more interested in the street address than the directions (due to the same volume problems on the phone mentioned earlier) and asked him to text me the address. Which I duly plugged into Google Local for Mobiles. Which duly brought me back almost to where I'd started, still on 5th Avenue North. I wandered into a likely building, which indeed had Amazon listed on the directory, but I realised it was in the 700 block rather than the 600. So I tried the next block, where there was some sort of municipal building, and asked at the desk if this was 605 5th Avenue, and he said, "are you looking for Amazon?" It turns out he gets a few people every week asking the same question. At last the North/South distinction was made clear to me and I hiked down to Union Station. Just as I arrived another coworker texted me, so I phoned him back and waited for him to meet me. While I was waiting, the first coworker I'd phoned showed up to chat, then the second arrived, and my first day in the office started about an hour later than I'd intended.
Can't say much about the office, really. You know, corporate secrets and what not. I will say it's the first time since I worked at Motorola that I've been in a full-height cube environment, though.
Most of the fortnight in Seattle is an interchangeable blur of work and socialising, such that I'd have to try really hard to name days on which various things happened. I worked two evening shifts, meaning I had most of the day off, which serves only to confuse me further. Add to that the lingering confusion over the exact time and a busy drinking schedule and the net result is just a mishmash of unsorted events. Having said that, I've tried to keep things in approximately chronological order.
For various reasons (house-buying, new kid, impending kid, conference to attend, and just plain busy) I didn't get to do a whole lot of socialising with my coworkers. I did take a trip to Salumi's with one; this is a lunch venue that cures its own meat and serves most excellent sandwiches to go, but only opens from 11am to 4pm Tuesday to Friday. There was a half-hour queue when we got there, and it was worth every bit of the wait for my meatball sandwich. I also saw a tiny, tiny piece of World Cup action when two coworkers joined me for lunch at Fadó while Italy played Ghana.
Given that I had an actual apartment with kitchen and what not to stay in, I felt I should do some grocery shopping. Here I discovered a huge cultural difference between the US and what I'm used to: the two or three mini-markets I visited stocked beverages (mainly beer and sodas), junk food, and maybe a fraction of a shelf devoted to essential toiletries. Here, your average mini-market is in fact a mini-market, supplying dairy produce, frozen food, fresh vegetables and fruit, various meat products, etc. It's not a supermarket, but you can survive on it if you need to. I ended up doing a little shopping in a pricey "health"-oriented shop near the apartment which, I noted with amusement, stocked tubs of Kerrygold butter at $5 each.
While I'm on the topic of cultural differences: sales tax. I hate, hate, HATE the prevailing practice of displaying prices without sales tax, particularly when there's no indication near to hand of what the sales tax might be. If I pick something up with a 99¢ tag on it, I'd like it to be ¢99 at the till, not $1.08. Any other country I've been to - at least that I can recall - displays the till price, not the untaxed price. What, precisely, is the point of doing otherwise?
The area around the apartment was a little odd. The apartments themselves are pretty classy, and the immediately surrounding plaza has a couple of restaurants and a Harley Davidson shop. Yet the corner building is a theatre of dubious nature titled "The Lusty Lady", and just down the block there's "Taboo Video". And the mini-market next to Rude Coffee wasn't exactly upmarket, either.
One of the nicer things about hanging around in talk.bizarre for years is that I now have contacts in a wide variety of places, albeit mostly in the US. I'd put out a general call to anyone inclined to meet up, and was rewarded with the company of Stevi and Genevieve on three and two occasions respectively. I'd met Stevi in London this side of the millennium rollover, but I hadn't seen Genevieve since HOTT.BOB. Given that we've all kept in touch (more or less) via electronic means there wasn't quite as much catching up as you'd expect for an 11-year gap, but that's not to say there was a shortage of chat.
Tips being an essential part of the average service worker's take-home, I was somewhat surprised at the amount of bad service Broen and I encountered. Perhaps, as noted earlier, it was simply the combined power of our weirdo magnets or something. In addition to Rude Coffee, there was the barman in Fadó who brusquely asked me for ID, glanced at it, and said, "that's not you" (right, dude, I chose an Irish passport as my fake ID), and there was the waitress in a U. District restaurant called Costa's who told us she was going to get us some cutlery and promptly vanished leaving us to steal cutlery off the next table. Broen told me that the guy who took my cash scowled at the meagre tip I left but, you know, if you tip bad service you only encourage it, and I disagree with the whole quasi-mandatory tipping thing in the first place.
The diametric opposite of this was, of course, the barman at the dive bar that Broen, Donal and I visited after one of my on-call shifts. We walked in the door and Broen enquired about smoking; the barman responded that it was illegal to smoke on the premises. With a cigarette in his mouth. He took a photo of the three of us (after I'd unsuccessfully attempted same with the cooperation of the camera's timer and a convenient bar tap) and pretty much rocked out behind the bar when we took over the jukebox. Apparently he even expressed disappointment to Broen that the Irish boys didn't make it back there a second time.
During my entire two-week visit, I didn't go into a single Tully's, SBC, or Starbuck's. I did, however, get to hang out at Broenwynn's Wayward Coffeehouse down in Greenwood. I spent one evening there covering an on-call shift, and made a few other incidental visits as and when Broen needed to call in there (since she was driving me around). It's a great place (no bias here!) with local art on the walls, free wireless Internet, live music, late opening, toys, boardgames, and of course there's the coffee, which is organic, fair-trade and shade-grown. I can also strongly recommend the hot chocolate! You should go there, obviously, to confirm that I'm not making this up.
One thing I'd planned on doing while in the US was to pick up a few shirts and denims, since I'm a crap shopper and figured that with assistance from Broen I might do better, and also the prices would be cheaper than shopping at home. However, even a well-stocked mall couldn't induce me to purchase more than a single shirt and a single pair of denims. I saw a few tshirts I'd have considered buying if I didn't have so many of the damn things already, my favourites being "I see dumb people" and "If you don't talk to your cat about catnip, who will?". Still, I really like the shirt, and finally figured out that it's because I used have one just like it a few years back, albeit with slightly different colouring. Creature of habit, that's me.
In an attempt to cover as much of Seattle as possible, Broen took me down to Fremont to grab food and beers, and invited one of her coffeehouse staff to join us. Both Broen and Angie were facing the wrong way to see the guy (not homeless, nor obviously a fratboy) who for no apparent reason dropped his trousers at the intersection just up the street. However, once we'd wandered off to another bar we were, after a while, accosted by a guy who was apparently off-duty bar staff. After some reasonably normal conversation he drifted off into a bunch of 9/11 conspiracy theories which, well, I'm familiar with most of them, but this guy was totally off the charts. The real fun part, though, was when he started on about the evil Freemasons and the occult and all that, apparently failing to notice that Broen wears a pentacle pendant. I think he eventually realised he was way out of his depth and wandered off.
I spent at least one evening watching bad TV. Part of the badness was the content, and part the reception; when Adoba promised me a home away from home I didn't think they'd include my crap reception. My brother helpfully pointed out that switching off the VCR improved things dramatically. Or doing something with the VCR. I'm not entirely clear what.
I did catch some decent stuff - the Daily Show, the Colbert Report, and bits and pieces of movies - and there was one unintentional classic on the local Fox Affiliate: some guys were being interviewed about a film they'd made using a hacked $35 CVS disposable video camera, and one of them said, "the important thing is that this gives us a voice, and allows our stories to be heard". He said something more after that, but the volume on the clip was muted and the reporter was talking over him. Classic.
I went to see X-Men: The Last Stand in the Cinerama with Broen, her flatmate Patrick, and her friend Josh. The Cinerama is one of Paul Allen's pet projects; I was impressed with the venue, but alas the film wasn't anywhere near as impressive. Before the movie we had coffees at a place called Two Bells where we had to go outside and sit under a too-small umbrella in light drizzle while Broen had a cigarette, and after the movie we took in another bar called Rendezvous (which apparently used be quite the punk joint) where they were a little more, shall we say, slack about the smoking policy.
Donal figured that seeing as I'd made it as far as the US, he'd take a short break in Seattle. He arrived in on Thursday morning and left on Monday morning along with a new tshirt and a hangover (I suspect). In the interim we did several tourist things, including the Space Needle and a road trip north of Seattle with Broenwynn as our driver and tour guide. Keep reading, it's all below.
Of course, you can't go to Seattle without seeing the Space Needle. Whether you actually ascend it or not is up to you, but it's visible from a large number of vantage points as it's over 500 feet tall. I took some pictures of it from my apartment balcony, from below it, and from I-5 (twice), and also a bunch of pictures from the observation deck (see all the Seattle photos) when I visited it with Donal. The view is pretty impressive.
Below the Space Needle is the Gaudy Monstrosity, also known as the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum. We didn't get to see Neil Gaiman inducting new members into the Sci-Fi Hall of Fame, but the museum was interesting all the same. I find it hard to write much about it, as you really have to see it to appreciate it. Some of the displays included fan-created costumes that were pretty much impossible to tell from the real thing, and a whole heap of stuff is apparently on loan from Paul Allen's private stash.
The Experience Music Project was also pretty good, but a little sly. You can get an entry ticket to both places for some random number of dollars, but this doesn't get you access to everything in the EMP. There was some sort of art thing going on there which was another 8 bucks, and there was a "record your own music" section which charged you 10 bucks if you wanted to actually take away a recording of whatever you'd "recorded", and a few other things along those lines. Donal really enjoyed the Hendrix display, and thought it worth the price of admission all by itself. I tooled around with the effects pedals stuff (where you can try to match the sound of Jimi's guitar by fiddling with the settings), but whether it was broken or just poorly set up I couldn't get near enough volume out of the tweakable audio feed to even begin to compare with the real track. I guess there would have been some benefit to getting the self-tour headphones, but these were also extra over the admission cost. On the whole I could've been happier with this, but it's not like I actively disliked it - just that I felt it could have provided more for the entry-level ticket.
Donal also persuaded me - without much difficulty - to go to see the Mariners play the Giants at Safeco Park. It was actually a near-perfect game for a disinterested observer; it didn't run too long (under two and a half hours for the entire game), there were three home runs and one broken bat, Barry Bonds got booed twice for walking onto the field and once for not doing so (go figure), and the home team won (not quite a shut-out, but close). The guy at the concessions stand asked me to help him out when I offered my passport as ID, possibly because my date of birth is labelled in small print and has both the Irish and English abbreviations for the month included; however, he was also apparently puzzled by my brother's Massachusetts driver's license. He wisecracked a bit when he'd determined that we were legal drinkers, though.
Seattle, I discovered, is such an extravagant place that even the sidewalks have basements. The Underground tour provides you with a look at "Seattle Below", where old Seattle was burnt down, rebuilt, and then covered over due to a disagreement between the businesses and the town authorities. The Underworld tour is the same thing, except (to paraphrase our guide) it's intended for adults so they don't refer to the prostitutes as "seamstresses" and there's a free drink at the end of it.
The tour was interesting, and our guide was entertaining, energetic, and funny, but I still felt at the end that it was just a little on the lightweight side - case in point being that for our final stop she told us to assemble at the far side of the totem pole (in Pioneer Square) but neglected to tell us a single thing about it! I mean, sure, it's not part of the Underground history, but still. The bar attached to the tour is Doc Maynards, although the section we were in appeared to be a separate premises with the banner "Underground Tour" over it. After we'd had our free beers (passing on the tour guide's exhortation to get something expensive, since it was going to be free anyway), we wandered off in search of food.
We wound up at the Ipanema Grill, a Brazillian all-you-can-eat barbeque right next to Harbour Steps. Coincidentally, Donal had just been telling me all about a similar place he'd been in. Initially we almost left before being seated as there was no sign of the maître'd, but eventually a guy in a reddish shirt got up from a table and approached us, brought us to the table next to his, and sat back down again. Our waiter looked rather Irish, although his accent obviously wasn't, and the service once we sat down was excellent.
So here's the deal: you get a plate, cutlery, and a little disk with red on one side and green on the other. First stop, the salad bar, where you probably don't want to get too much because it's not what you're paying for. Salad's cheap, and largely tasteless. No, you want to sit back down with a leaf of lettuce and two cubes of potato and wait for the MEAT. As long as you've got your disk facing green side up, a revolving collection of waiters will stop at your table with a huge chunk of meat on a spit. They slice it off the spit at your table, and you're provided with a little tongs to grab the slice and haul it to your plate. Our table was first in line from the barbeque, so we got everything straight off the heat. There was filet mignon, several things labeled steak (fillet, sirloin, CHEESE!, etc.), prawns, and lamb, and possibly I'm missing something. Oh, there was a sausage wrapped in bacon. And it's ALL YOU CAN EAT MEAT. Donal picked a red wine to wash it all down and we chomped our way through several visits. As we got stuffed, we started talking to the next table where the maître'd was sitting and lo and behold one of his table companions is the owner of the restaurant. So we stayed there eating and talking about our respective countries (the owner and the maître'd were Argentines, and the third guy at the table was a turk) and eventually left when they were closing, at which point the owner came over to shake our hands as we left. Nice touch, that.
While our schmoozing the staff at the Ipanema didn't garner us any freebies, the subsequent trip back down to Underground did. Our barmaid felt guilty at having left us unattended for all of five minutes, and so gave us our beers for free. So we gave her an extra-big tip in return.
For much of the time I was in Seattle, it was sufficiently overcast that the mountains were obscured. In fact, I got rained on the night I arrived in Seattle, and the weather continued to be unimpressive with few exceptions for the duration of my stay. By the second weekend when Broen took Donal and me on a road trip up around the north end of Puget Sound and Admiralty Inlet, it got to the point where Donal decided that the mountains are, in fact, fictional and a joke perpetrated on outsiders by the natives. I saw one solitary mountain-like object on the entire trip and for all I know it was an optical illusion.
The road trip was a lot of fun. We (by which I mean Broenwynn) drove north to Edmonds, then took the ferry across Puget Sound to Kingston; from there we drove by Port Gamble and on up through Port Townsend until we got to Fort Worden, where I found some funny graffiti. We decided the fort was there to keep out them pesky Canadians, despite the lightweight descriptive sign which claimed it was some sort of non-specific coastal defence. I mean, what else is there to defend from there? Brent Geese?
From Fort Worden we headed back to Port Townsend and took the ferry to Whidbey Island, where we drove to Deception Pass. It was really nice to look at, but also damned cold, so I took a few more photos and then headed back to the shelter of the car park. From here, we drove across to I-5 and back down into Seattle for a quiet... pub crawl!
Before imbibing, some food was required, so we hit Mama's Mexican Kitchen which the guys in the Dublin office said I had to go to or they wouldn't allow me back in the office. I'm not a huge fan of Mexican food (largely due to the inevitable morning-after effects, but also because they tend to put things in their food that I'm not keen on, such as corn and kidney beans) but figured what the heck, it'd be worth a try. Despite my clever subheading above, Donal didn't have a burrito. I did, and managed to clear most of it, but even a single burrito with rice and beans was too much of a dish for me. You people need to work on smaller portions, dammit. We'd picked up Broen's flatmate along the way, so the four of us headed down the street to Rendezvous for a beer. And then to Two Bells. And then to the Lava Lounge. And then to some place with video games in it. And then back down to Rendezvous, where (I can only presume) the magical Waide effect again produced a free round of beer. Whee!
I'm running out of stories now. I had one more meet-up with the t.b folk, where we were joined by Broen, Josh, and another friend of Broen's, Blake. As ever, we ate, drank and were merry out front of the bar, but after a few people left and it was down to me, Josh, and Stevi, we moved inside and the conversation drifted into geekiness somewhat.
For my last night in Seattle, I visited one more bar on the Pike/Pioneer axis (I think between myself and Donal we covered all of them) with Broenwynn, and one of my coworkers joined us after a while. The bar in question was The Kells, situated at 1916 Post Alley which they HAVE to have bribed someone to get. I bet if you check the door numbers it's not adjacent to 1915 OR 1917. Two musicians were playing rather loud fiddledy-aye music (including those, er, great Trad musicians, Oasis) and after a drink or two we abandoned the place for a final visit to Rendezvous, where we stayed until kicked out. Broen again took the couch to facilitate driving me to the airport the next day.
Get up. Shower. Empty the bins. Load the dishwasher. Finish packing. Check that I've got everything.
We walked down the street to get coffee, studiously avoiding Rude Coffee along the way. On reaching Broen's car we discovered that neither of us had thought to hang the parking permit on the mirror and she'd collected a $25 fine. She scribbled the permit number on the back of the fine notice and will hopefully get off with that. I dropped the keys back to the concierge and we left for SeaTac. Traffic was light enough that despite leaving slightly later than intended, we got to the airport exactly two hours before my flight. Having said my goodbyes, I eyeballed the long queue in front of the Delta desk and went straight for self-checkin. Going through security I was again confronted by someone who had a hard time believing that I was the guy on the passport, but she didn't press the issue. I found somewhere that served an approximation of a fried breakfast and then waited to board. The gate folk stressed several times that the flight was full and people would have to adhere strictly to the luggage limitations, so I was surprised to see the guy in the seat next to me (oversized himself) hauling a bag about twice the permitted size in all directions and then gawping stupidly at the overhead bin he was supposed to put it in. Yeesh. Eventually all us cattle were in our pens and we headed East.
Our route to Atlanta was altered in-flight due to inclement weather, so the 19:20 touchdown became a 19:50 touchdown, and by the time I'd gotten out of the plane (I was in the very last row) it was 20:05 and my connection was supposedly leaving at 20:20 from the other end of the airport. Of course, there were no immediately visible screens giving departure times nor any immediately visible sources of assistance, so I just piled on the inter-area train, got myself down to area E, and ran to my gate. I was accompanied part of the way by some people catching a flight to Italy. On arriving at my gate (E36, at the very end of the concourse), the banner indicated that it was for a flight to India, so I handed my boarding pass to the counter girl and asked her to confirm that I'd missed my flight. Turns out they'd changed it to another gate, so she told me the new gate and phoned ahead to tell them I was on my way. Of course, the new gate was at the absolute other end of the concourse ("other gates: next left. Your gate: keep running!") and I got there feeling like I could do with a lung transplant if they had one handy. They'd closed the boarding gate, but the plane was still loading luggage, so they let me on, and the guy who sauntered up in a leisurely fashion behind me, and - I'm guessing - several more people after that, since the plane didn't leave for another 20-25 minutes. Dammit.
I didn't sleep. I can't generally sleep on planes, but I really can't sleep when there's someone sitting next to me with the light on, and I really, really can't sleep when some kid elsewhere on the plane thinks it's a fun idea to sweep a flashlight around the cabin every so often.
Delta Airlines stewardess: "We will shortly be coming through the cabin with duty free items. We accept payment in cash, all major credit cards, and your first-born."
Nothing says "Welcome to Ireland" like having to shuffle along in a queue for half an hour through an alternation of dank, narrow corridors and equally narrow glass-walled corridors - where outgoing passengers can stare at you like fish in a fishbowl - in order to reach Passport Control. The Passport Control area itself has a tiny queuing area, making it non-obvious that those of us with EU Passports can just march through the middle of the room while everyone else gets hard scrutiny. Someone three places in the queue in front of me figured it out and thus I got to skip the line.
The signs on the bus to the long-term car park insisted that you had to validate your parking (i.e. pay) before getting on the bus as you would not be able to do so at the car park exit. Which is, of course, nonsense; there are two automatic payment booths there. I really don't know why they bother with this.
And after an hour or more in traffic I finally made it home.